CMA Entertainer of the Year Blake Shelton’s eighth studio album comes from a happy place. Based On A True Story…, which is due in stores March 26, tells the sort of tale you’d expect to hear from an artist clearly on the ascent with a soaring national profile and an ever-growing fan base. Working again with longtime producer Scott Hendricks (Trace Adkins, Jana Kramer), Blake dishes up 12 contemporary-leaning songs on the new record that serve as a lighthearted companion to his 2011 platinum-selling album, Red River Blue.
Things have been going well for Blake, whose national popularity skyrocketed after settling into a judge’s chair on the hit singing competition, The Voice. An increased role in the TV spotlight appears to be having an effect on his music as Based On A True Story… features some of Blake’s finest and most confident performances to date. The album opener, “Boys ‘Round Here,” which features wife Miranda Lambert’s band Pistol Annies as well as former The Voice contestant RaeLynn, gains strength from a subtle acoustic hick hop beat before Blake’s easy drawl falls perfectly in time with the music. Giving fun-loving shout outs to Hank Jr., chewing tobacco and dirt roads, the performance exemplifies Blake’s easygoing demeanor. On the cinematic power ballad, “Do You Remember,” Blake carefully builds the drama before breaking into a powerfully nostalgic chorus. And on the standout track, “Mine Would Be You,” a miss-her-badly whose full effect isn’t realized until the twist, Blake’s melodies are one part soothing, one part regret.
Popular reference points like dirt roads and Chevy truck beds do make steady appearances. The album’s lead single, “Sure Be Cool If You Did,” which marked Blake’s eighth No. 1 single in a row, fuels up on a huge chorus a la Florida Georgia Line before heading down a back road. However, as he points out in the fluid, banjo laced, “Country On The Radio,” As long as there’s a small town on a Saturday night, the themes resonate with their relatable story lines, and Blake’s everyman persona conveys this as well as anybody. Yet, where Blake really succeeds depicting the details of country life is when he takes the stories a step further.
The Southern rock, Bob Seger-meets-heartland guitar crunch of “Small Town Big Time,” fires on all cylinders with its story of a redneck out of place. Cruising through Hollywood, Blake reminisces about where, Somebody’s havin’ a small town, big time night/somebody’s rockin’ the main street, red tail lights. And even though the Honky Tonk “I Still Got A Finger” comes across as a fun, tongue-in-cheek send off, the underlying blue-collar struggles are issues that people truly have to deal with. Blake’s ability to connect with his audience leaves a lasting impression.
A trio of seductive, request-line-on-a-Saturday-night love songs make their presence felt through Blake’s charismatic deliveries. Though it’s tough not to smile when he mentions bringing home fajitas in, “Doin’ What She Likes,” the performances are always natural. And on “My Eyes,” featuring Gwen Sebastian, and the R&B influenced, “Lay Low,” Blake transitions through remarkably soulful and bluesy passages with ease.
Big choruses come often on Based On A True Story…, as heard in the whoo-ooh-ooh-whoo-hoos of, “Ten Times Crazier,” but the record’s overall pacing balances out nicely. The album closing, “Grandaddy’s Gun,” the project’s most traditional-leaning song, does an excellent job wrapping what is a mostly lighter themed project on an introspective and deeper note. The song, which features reflective acoustics, is full of rich nostalgia and cherished memories while discussing family heritage. Based On A True Story… is the next step in Blake’s legacy; one that displays his own happiness with a good-natured and confident set. And that’s something to smile about.
Key Tracks – “Mine Would Be You,” “Small Town Big Time,” “My Eyes,” “I Still Got A Finger”